September 24, 2023

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Can we get Shah Rukh back?

3 min read

Aa diehard fans of Shah Rukh Khan, we don’t grudge any big or small gesture of love sent his way. But as those who have stood by him through thick, thin and the very, very lean — when fans were less, friends lesser and cynics prowling — we need to say this: please don’t spoil our imperfect star.

We liked the fact that he wouldn’t really win any acting awards in a hurry, wasn’t the best looker in town or the best fighter, was often the loser and shed tears easily. Now, not all of us could have him as a boyfriend, but we could all imagine him as the friend ready to engulf us in his giant hug.

And now comes this third act of Shah Rukh, where he is mind bogglingly larger than life on screen; and even larger than records off it. He is rippling muscle, dipping Botox, stretching credulity, and feeding nationalism in bite-size, please-all flavours that are an affront to our — and, more importantly, his — intelligence.

And so, we find ourselves trying to find excuses for Shah Rukh, the hero for whom we once didn’t need to make any – he mostly served the excuses much more delectably himself. Maybe it’s fatherhood, maybe it’s compromise, maybe it’s insecurity, maybe it’s just his need to give a bigger and bigger answer to drown out the questions raised about him.

And yet, and yet, for fans like us, the Shah Rukh we loved is now getting lost in the Shah Rukh whose appetite for love has outstripped us. That’s one way of explaining Jawan, and the indistinguishable women he has in the film hanging around at his beck and call. Women he addresses collectively and pejoratively as “girls”, who spring to attention at his command. There is also a crack special forces officer played by Nayanthara, a superstar in her own right, who has raised a daughter out of wedlock but who marries him over one date arranged by the child. And there is the “elderly” Kaveri amma, played by an actor who makes less effort to look old than the popular girl at your school did in the annual day play.

And then there is Shah Rukh himself, at times too old to look young, at times too hot to look old, sprinting against time.

We can’t hate him; that ship sailed long back. But are we doing a disservice by showering all this breathless praise? Can we love the man and still call his film less than ordinary, and him equally so? Can we tell him that by landing everywhere and nowhere his “political” blows are only adding to the silence of the unsaid? Can we tell him that to say nothings is more soul-crushing than saying nothing?

Maybe it’s too much to hang all this on the man whose life we can only gauge, even if we can’t get enough of it. But then, Shah Rukh has always been bigger than his films, a presence one carries home after the curtains have fallen.

Besides, he keeps the spark of our hopes alive, like the other day when shepherding young son Abram, he turned up to pay obeisance to Ganpati at Mumbai’s famous Lalbaugcha Raja.

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He touched the idol’s feet, ensured his son did the same, took the prasad, and got a tilak put on his and Abram’s forehead, lifting the latter’s hair that hung on it. There was just too much saffron in the air, too many people around him, even if they were delighted fans holding up mobile phones.

Our hearts hung in our collective throats, expecting one stray stone, one stray remark to land about the man whose name is Khan.

It didn’t. Believe me, Shah Rukh, that’s all the blockbusters we need.

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